Navigating a meat department can be pretty confusing with so many different options and limited amounts of time and money to spend. At the end of a busy day, we all just want to put something delicious on the table. With a strong foundation about the various cuts and the cow, you can easily walk into any meat department and find the perfect piece of meat to suit your taste.
The area of the cow’s body that your meat comes from dictates how tough or tender your freshly cut selection will be. Anatomy should also always be your guide for both how you will cook your meat and what it will cost. It’s no secret that we all pay less for tougher grades of meat. It usually requires more time to make them tender, but tougher beef can also taste just as delicious when prepared well. The tender areas of the cow are at the center, and you’re going to pay more for that tenderness, plain and simple. Even though a center cut of steak like a ribeye or a tenderloin are fantastic, you can still cook an equally flavorful cut for half the price by using the right cooking techniques and recipes. When it comes to selecting your beef, it all starts with a clear understanding of the anatomy of a cow in relation to how it is sectioned and cut.
The USDA dictates that every butchered cow in America be divided into eight sections called, “primal cuts.” This allows every meat cutter to go by the same standardized cuts and quality. Once the cow is butchered into the primal sections, those eight cuts of beef are then broken down into smaller pieces called, “sub-primal” cuts. You normally don’t see these displayed in the meat department. They are larger cuts of meat that the butchers receive in bulk in the back that they then cut into “portion cuts” for customers to see and purchase.
Here are the names of the primal cuts everyone should know:
Chuck meat comes from the cow’s shoulder. A cow’s shoulder is used a lot, so it can be a tough cut of beef. However, it’s also a very flavorful cut, and butchers cut it in a variety of ways, so you have lots of options at the grocery store.
Types of cuts you’ll see for chuck are ground chuck (hamburger), flat-iron steak, chuck short ribs, shoulder tender medallions, chuck pot roast, blade roast, boneless chuck short ribs, stew meat, country style ribs, and top blade steak, just to name a few. You should choose chuck beef when you want lots of flavor, but need to be cost conscious too.